"The company had an outstanding year, earning a profit that was higher than last year's strong performance and one of our best years ever. Our results were driven by record profits in North America and Asia Pacific Africa, improved results in Europe and another solid year from Ford Credit."
-Ford CFO, Bob Shanks
I've been bullish on Ford (NYSE:F), the U.S. automaker that's heading up a worldwide auto recovery, since I started writing about it in early 2013. My last article on Ford offered a preview into earnings expectations for the company and outlook into 2014. I also recently named Ford as one of my 7 More Attractive Trades for 2014 based on the following points:
- Ford is spearheading the U.S. auto turnaround and had a record 2013 across the board, even with slightly less confidence about 2014 recently.
- Ford's Fusion is expected to go head to head with the Toyota Camry for the best selling sedan in the U.S. in 2014.
- I argued Ford was likely to raise its dividends in 2014. This happened just last week.
- Ford will be positively impacted by the European auto markets having bottomed and turning around.
Early on Tuesday morning, Ford put out a press release disclosing its earnings, labeling 2013 as one of the company's "best years ever":
- Full year 2013 pre-tax profit of $8.6 billion, an increase of $603 million from a year ago, was one of Ford's best years ever; full year earnings per share of $1.62, an increase of 21 cents per share compared with a year ago
- Full year net income of $7.2 billion, or $1.76 per share, including pre-tax special item charges of $1.6 billion and favorable tax special items of $2.2 billion
- Highest full year automotive pre-tax profit in more than a decade; record profits in North America and Asia Pacific Africa; about breakeven in South America; lower loss in Europe than last year
- Full year top-line growth with wholesale volume and total company revenue up 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively, compared with a year ago; growth supported by year-over-year market share gains in the U.S., South America and in Asia Pacific Africa, which was driven by record market share in China; higher retail share in Europe
- Total company fourth quarter pre-tax profit of $1.3 billion, a decrease of $402 million compared with a year ago; 18th consecutive quarter of profitability; fourth quarter earnings per share of 31 cents, unchanged from 2012
- Fourth quarter net income of $3 billion, or 74 cents per share, an increase of $1.4 billion compared with a year ago, including pre-tax special item charges of $311 million and favorable tax special items of $2.1 billion
- Ford's outlook for 2014 is unchanged. Ford expects another solid year with total company pre-tax profit to range from $7 billion to $8 billion; Automotive revenue to be about the same as last year; Automotive operating margin to be lower; and Automotive operating-related cash flow to be positive but substantially lower than 2013
Those numbers require little analysis. Simply put, it was an excellent year for the automaker and the ship looks steady heading into Q1 2014.
For the year, it was one of Ford's best years since the late 90s or early 2000s. The real key here though, is the fact that Ford continues to improve overseas. During a recent trip to Europe, where I wind up going a few times a year, I couldn't help but feel that I was noticing more Fords on the road than usual. The interesting thing overseas, unlike the Midwest U.S., is that far less vehicles that bear the Ford brand are pickup trucks.
In and of itself, that's fine. Pickup trucks like the F-150, which are a major seller in the U.S., have gotten an upgrade in style and design that I think is both aesthetically pleasing and practical. I'm bullish on the new F-150 and I think you're going to be seeing more of them on the roads in the coming year than you ever have:
If the F-150 can be a major success like the Fusion - through upgraded fuel economy and a sleek new body that does anything but scream the Ford of 2001, Ford could be blazing an impressive path through 2014.
Ford is taking a gamble here, but it's one that I'm bullish on. And, now's the time for them to do it - the Ford brand has more energy behind it than its had in 20 years. Now is the time for the company to embrace small changes like this, so they don't get caught under the wave of change.
In Europe, Ford lost money - but less money than last year, $1.6 billion - and the company is expecting itself to be profitable overseas in 2015.
The fact that Ford set records in Asia is enormous. Recently noting how the company's gamble into China has and will continue to bear fruit for the company, I'm a massive advocate for Ford (and (NYSE:GM)) growing overseas to catalyze growth.
Even though Ford has maintained its cautious tone heading into 2014, I'm expecting big things from the automaker.
Investors are reminded to continue to be cautious of the company's restructuring costs in Europe, as Ford pointed out toward the end of the year last year. Ford also commented that its new offering of 20-plus vehicles in the coming year also comes with a price tag. However, innovation and growth cost money, and now is the time for Ford to make these investments in themselves.
However, with the company's recently raised dividends and momentum within a rebounding auto sector, I'm counting on 2014 to be another winner for both Ford, its consumers and its investors.
Here's to a great 2013 and an even better 2014, Ford.
Disclosure: I am long GM. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.